The United States of America has a long held belief in the power of prayer. In 1775, the Continental Congress established a day of prayer for the English colonies. After the success of this day, they later established two days of prayer, one of fasting and prayer in the spring, and one of thanksgiving and praise in the fall. Unfortunately, following the presidency of James Madison, the next 11 presidents stopped the practice with no proclamations made for national observance of prayer from 1815 until 1862. In 1863—in the middle of the Civil War—Abraham Lincoln established that a day of prayer and thanksgiving be re-established as what is now our traditional Thanksgiving Day.
In 1952, during yet another war (the Korean War), Billy Graham was holding a Crusade in Washington, D.C., a few blocks from the U.S. Capitol at the National Guard Armory. On February 3, he led an unprecedented evangelistic event in front of 40,000 people on the steps of the Capitol to petition the leaders of our country to return to an understanding of the significance of prayer. He said, “What a thrilling, glorious thing it would be to see the leaders of our country today kneeling before Almighty God in prayer. What a thrill would sweep this country. What renewed hope and courage would grip the Americans at this hour of peril.”
The impact of this rally was nearly immediate. Two days later, the House of Representatives unanimously approved a bill to establish a National Day of Prayer, and the bill was signed into law by President Truman in April of that year. Each president following Truman selected a day of prayer on a date of their choice; however, in 1988 the law was amended to establish the first Thursday of May as the permanent National Day of Prayer.
Since its inception, the Graham family has been a strong supporter of the National Day of Prayer. Two of Billy Graham’s children, Franklin Graham and Anne Graham Lotz, have each served as Honorary Chairman for the National Day of Prayer and have been heavily involved in prayer events across the country. Likewise, Billy’s grandchildren have participated in major events. Cissie Graham Lynch, daughter of Franklin Graham and granddaughter of Billy, delivered a prayer from the Rose Garden of the White House in May 2018, praying for wisdom for America’s leaders and healing for the country.
This year, as our nation faces a war of a different type – against a virus that threatens the health, economy, and dreams of our country, the National Day of Prayer on May 7 will be particularly significant. The legacy of Billy Graham continues as Will Graham, Billy’s grandson, will co-host an online event from the grounds of the Billy Graham Library, introducing Christian leaders and performers from their locations across the country as its citizens pray together for God’s glory across the earth.